Any survey on adult’s New Year resolutions usually uncovers the same sorts of things on the lists. The top five items tend to be along the lines of: lose weight, become more organised, spend less and save more, take up a new hobby or sport, and improve fitness and health. The first and the last two of these resolutions are of course linked to health and exercise and we will focus on them in this article.
This article looks at the popular new year's resolution to get fitter. We examine the three stages of a fitness resolution: the first section looks at preparing yourself for a new exercise regime, covering what sports to take up, and stretching. The second section concerns the pain that can occur from using your muscles in a new way, and how to deal with it. The final part looks specifically at winter challenges, from muscle tightness to potential danger outside, and ways to handle the issues.
Preparing the mind and body for a new exercise regime
Before you begin any physical activity, get yourself into the right mindset for your regime. By understanding what exercise is and the advantages of it, you can keep yourself motivated and focused on your goals. Essentially exercise is any activity that uses your muscles to generate movement. Regular exercise can increase the strength, size and stamina of your muscles. Among the most beneficial types of exercise for the whole body is known as “aerobic exercise”. You can make exercise fun by taking part in sports such as running, cycling or swimming whilst still reaping all of the health benefits too. This type of exercise can make your muscles stronger and over time you are less likely to get tired. It can also:
- Strengthen your heart so it can pump blood around your body more efficiently
- Help lower blood pressure and keep your blood sugar stable
- Lose weight or maintain a healthy weight when mixed with a healthy diet
- Improve your mood reduce stress
It is equally important to incorporate stretches into your workout regime. Stretching before and after a workout can help reduce the risk of injury. In addition, its helps to improve your flexibility and strengthen muscles too. Yoga is another great way to work your mind and body together. It is an ideal way to relieve stress whilst burning calories and relaxing your mind all in one workout!
Dealing with muscle pain after exercising…
Muscle and Backache
However, if you have not been used to a vigorous exercise regime and start suddenly, the body and its muscles may need a period of time to get used to the new demands. In the long run, exercise should make muscles less tired, but a new exercise regime may cause aches and pains in the short term. The good news is that the pain will decrease as your muscles get used to the new physical demands being placed upon them. It is wise to start any new exercise program gently and gradually.
The classic symptom of post exercise soreness is known as DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and this is quite normal. It will generally affect the limbs that you have been using the most. For example, the calf muscles, if you have chosen to cycle up some hills. If you have intense and prolonged aches and pains, you may have been “overtraining”. If it feels like you got run over by a bus, you should cut back on the amount or intensity of exercise that you are attempting!
There is always a possibility that a new training plan will stress your ligaments and muscles to the point of injury. Weight training in the gym for example, may initially cause you to experience back pain. The back is a complex structure of muscles tendons and nerves and is very prone to minor strain or sprain injuries. These type of injuries are also very often inflicted on other parts of the body, the neck, legs and ankles.
Pain from minor injuries, stress or exercise can usually be relieved by home treatment. The acronym PRICE spells out a set of options for dealing with a muscular pain or injury.
- Protection – The injured part of the body should be protected from further injury. Situations that might put further strain on the area should be avoided. Certain parts of the body may benefit from being supported. For example, a sprained ankle may be helped by wearing a shoe that gives more support to the ankle. Other injuries may benefit from measures such as wearing a brace or using rigid strapping tape. Contact a doctor or a sports injury specialist if you would like further information about what is best for you.
- Rest – Give the joint or muscle some rest to allow it to heal over time. Do not try and "brave out" an injury and simply carry on playing your game. It could cause further damage and might make your injury more severe and longer lasting.
- Ice – An ice pack is advisable for the first 2-3 days following the injury rather than applying any heat. Every two to three hours ice, wrapped in a damp towel, may be applied to the area. The ice should not be allowed to touch your skin directly, because it could cause a burn. Leave it on the injury for 20 minutes, it should help to reduce the inflammation. Ice is good for injuries, such as ligament sprains, muscle tears or bruising as it helps reduce pain and swelling. Twenty minutes should be enough - do not go to bed with an ice pack on.
- Compression – Applying a compressive bandage or elastic support is another technique that may benefit the injury, it should help to control swelling and bleeding in the first few days. Elastic bandages, including tubular type bandages, are usually available from pharmacies. Bandages should be carefully wrapped around the affected area - but not too tightly, otherwise they may restrict blood flow. Remove the bandage before going to bed.
- Elevation – Injured arms and legs are best kept raised and supported (perhaps by a pillow) to help reduce swelling. However, if elevation makes the pain of the injury worse, stop elevating, and instead, keep the limb flat.
Treating aches such as backache
Alongside these physical treatments, anti-inflammatory, pain relieving medicines, such as Nurofen can be used to provide temporary relief. Nurofen contains ibuprofen and is available in several forms. Nurofen Joint & Back Pain Relief 5% Gel and Nurofen Joint & Back Pain Relief Maximum Strength 10% Gel formulations are topical preparations that are absorbed into the skin to get to work where needed. They can be suitable for ailments such as lower back pain, or aching calf muscles. There are also oral forms of Nurofen, including Nurofen Long Lasting Pain Relief 300mg Prolonged Release Capsules. This is designed to provide 12 hour relief for the back and other sites of muscular and rheumatic pain and aches.
The possible challenges of exercising in winter
Some hazards in January, such as snow and ice, are obvious but cold weather actually puts more demand on the body as well. Irrespective of exercise, cold weather causes muscles to lose heat and contract, which can cause tightness throughout the body. Joints get tighter, muscles can lose their range of motion and nerves can more easily be pinched. From an exercise point of view, the body may be starting from a stiffer, tighter position during the winter than it would during the summer.
Warm up and warm downs
In colder temperatures, muscles may be forced to work much harder to complete the same tasks that they would find easy in mild weather. This exerts more wear and tear on the muscle tissue and can result in increased soreness following exercise. To avoid this type of strain on the muscles, they need to be given time to adapt to new activities, which should help minimise soreness.
Traditionally, exercise is started by some gentle warm up activities and this helps to reduce tiredness and the chance of strain injuries. In winter it is particularly important to begin with warm up exercises and continue for a little longer than usual before you go ahead with your exercise routine or play a sport.
Warming up exercise allows muscles to loosen up, and increases the flow of blood around the body. It permits a gradual increase in the heart and respiration rate. As the body diverts energy from other areas like the gastrointestinal system to fuel the muscles, it begins this process gradually as well. The warm up period is also important in cold winter weather because it really does serve to increase body temperature gradually - instead of the shock of beginning outdoor exercise on a cold winter day. A typical warm up period lasts five to 10 minutes and consists of stretching and aerobic exercises. This can help to reduce your chance of injury.
What to wear
Of course, during the winter, the body is likely to go through a wider range of temperatures before, during and after outdoor exercise. It is therefore useful to dress in layered clothing so that you can peel off a garment or two as you warm up and then put it all back on again as you cool down.
So, hopefully this guide has given you some ideas on how to get started on your January fitness program without too much pain and discomfort. January may be one of the more difficult months to start, but by spring, exercise should be second nature to you. Should this new regime be your new year's resolution, take it easy, don't try to do too much all at once - remember, the idea is to keep it up and make it count.